Imbruglia Begins Post-'Torn' Career

Every pop artist who's just starting out wishes for a No. 1 hit. But sometimes -- as Natalie Imbruglia knows too well -- you should be careful what you wish for. The Australian singer made a splash i

Every pop artist who's just starting out wishes for a No. 1 hit. But sometimes -- as Natalie Imbruglia knows too well -- you should be careful what you wish for.

The Australian singer made a splash in the U.S. with her debut single, "Torn," which topped the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart in May 1998 and won a Billboard Music Video Award that November. But success was fleeting; nothing else from Imbruglia's RCA debut set, "Left of the Middle," hit the U.S. charts. Imbruglia soon disappeared from radio and music TV playlists.

"It's hard to peak too soon and have the rest of your campaign in the shadow of one song," Imbruglia says. "I didn't want that to happen again. I want to have somewhere to go."

Imbruglia has never been one to make a move without serious consideration; she turned down two record deals as a teenager, feeling she'd be "manipulated and unhappy" because she was "too young" -- something few people in her position likely would have done. So it's not surprising that after "Torn" faded, she took a long break to mull her next album. She recalls, "I didn't feel ready to go straight into it."

Some critics had chided Imbruglia over the success of "Torn" because she hadn't written the track, so this time she had a hand in writing all her material. "I'd rather invest my time in growing as a songwriter than looking for hit songs elsewhere," says Imbruglia, who wrote 64 new songs, only to throw them all away and start over.

In the end, Imbruglia crafted a dozen tracks for her new RCA set, "White Lilies Island," due March 5. "There was a lot of curiosity about whether I could meet the challenge," Imbruglia says. "I think I did."

Filled with thoughtful lyrics and catchy guitar riffs, "White Lilies Island" showcases a singer who's matured and grown since her first outing. Imbruglia wrote songs with Gary Clark, Phil Thornalley, Pat Leonard, and Mat Wilder. The results range from hook-laden rock tunes ("Do You Love?") to poetic anthems ("Come September") to bittersweet ballads ("Goodbye").

Choosing the first single wasn't a simple decision. Album-opener "That Day" -- which Imbruglia co-wrote with Leonard -- was released internationally in late 2001, but the label opted not to release the song in the States.

"I thought it was brave of the rest of the world to back 'That Day,' because it was a risk," says the singer, noting that the song, with its darker sound, lacks an obvious hook or a chorus. "The American market is different. I don't think 'That Day' would get a look at radio in America."

Instead, the upbeat Imbruglia/Clark track "Wrong Impression" -- the follow-up single in Europe -- is the album's first single in the U.S. The video for "Wrong Impression" is currently getting airplay on VH1, and the single was serviced to U.S. top 40, adult top 40, and triple-A radio stations Jan. 14 for airplay consideration. It is No. 18 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart this issue.

Adult top 40 KPLZ Seattle added "Wrong Impression" early in heavy rotation. "This single stood out to me and said 'hit,'" music director Alisa Hashimoto says. "It's got great lyrics, a great hook, and it's uptempo, which is something everybody could use right now."

Imbruglia's manager, Anne Barrett of London-based De-Angelis Management, knows the singer is still working in the shadow of her previous hit. "It's like standing in front of the ocean, trying to stop the waves," Barrett says. "That's how much pressure you feel because everyone wants another 'Torn.'"

Barrett continues, "There comes a point where you say, 'You're not getting another "Torn." ' Natalie worked really hard and she's made an incredible body of work. She's evolved as a writer and should be given a bit of credit."

Imbruglia has a higher public profile elsewhere -- in particular the U.K. and Australia, where she starred in the hit TV soap "Neighbours" (which had earlier launched Kylie Minogue to stardom) when she was 16. "I've got no delusions," Imbruglia says. "With America, it's tough if you leave it too long."

Imbruglia will perform March 8 on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," and she will book additional TV appearances around that time. She'll begin a promo tour of U.S. radio stations in April. Internet promotions with and America Online are also in the works.

Imbruglia, who now lives in the U.K., never toured the U.S. to support "Left of the Middle." Neither has she yet announced dates for the new album, but she has begun rehearsing with a five-piece band and says summer stateside dates are likely. She promises that her live show will be "more of a rock thing" than a pop concert, reflecting this disc's "live band feel."

This time around, Imbruglia isn't hanging all her hopes on one song, another "Torn." Instead, she sees "White Lilies Island" as "a solid piece of work from start to finish." She says, "I don't think it's a first-listen album. It's an album where once you get it, you get it."